Lovell Augustus Reeve (1814-1865): malacological author and publisher

By Richard E. Petit. Published in Zootaxa, Magnolia Press, Auckland, New Zealand. 28 November 2007, pp. 120, ISSN 1175-5326 (print edition). ISSN 1175-5334 (online edition)
Richard Petit has once again provided the conchological community with an important publication. His most recent work is a biography of Lovell Augustus Reeve that not only recounts the life of this luminary of the shell world, but also, and perhaps more importantly, lists and dissects Reeve’s conchological publications. In recounting Reeve’s life and times, Richard Petit goes beyond the normal dry discourse of facts one would expect. In the words of COA member Harry Lee, “The man’s personal, family, and professional life is explored in detail including lots of previously unpublished archival correspondence and notes. The grand master is not canonized; foibles, idiosyncrasies, successes, and failures alike are bared.” (Conch-L, subj. “All About (Re) eve,” 5 Jan 2005)

Petit also provides the reader with corrected publication dates and a complete collation of Reeve’s works. Much of this detail is provided for the first time and must have involved an almost unimaginable depth of research. Providing (and proving) the correct date for 200-year-old publications that were printed with the incorrect date or with no date is certainly no easy task, but a necessity with more than one of Reeve’s publications and provided here as almost a matter-of-course. Publication details include: co-authors, contemporaries, illustrators, dates of serial publications, newly introduced taxa (not given for Conchologia Iconica), reviews, errors, and (perhaps most interesting) little known facets of the publication process for the major works by Reeve.

Lovell Augustus Reeve (1814-1865) “…was a major figure in 19th Century malacology in England” and is well known today to almost every shell collector as the author of many mollusk species. (He was also a publisher with his own printing firm.) Students and professionals in malacology and conchology will perhaps best know him as the author of the Conchologia Iconica, a mammoth work begun in 1843 and terminated in 1878 (13 years after Reeve’s death). It was designed as a series of monographs that would eventually illustrate all mollusk species. To this end it consisted of 20 volumes (14 of which , plus parts of vols. 15 &16 were written by Reeve; the others were written by G.B. Sowerby II), 2,727 plates (all but 5 hand-colored), and it remained in print until the mid 20th century. Reeve published, authored, and co-authored many other books and articles (the count is over 100), but it is the Iconica for which he is best known. Other important works by Reeve that are thoroughly covered by Petit include: Elements of Conchology, the Conchologia Systematica, The Land and Freshwater Mollusks Indigenous to, or Naturalized in, the British Isles, and The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Samarang.

This monograph is not intended for the casual reader or someone looking for help in identifying shells. On the other hand, anyone who has a copy of Reeve’s Iconica, as well as conchologists and malacologists interested in taxonomy or the history of conchology would certainly be well served by either purchasing a printed copy from the publisher or downloading a copy. The wonderful thing about Zootaxa publications is that you can access many of them online and determine if it is a volume that should be added to your library. Zootaxa is online at: Other works by Petit available at Zootaxa include: George Perry’s molluscan taxa and notes on the editions of his Conchology of 1811 and Catalogue of the superfamily Cancellarioidea Forbes and Hanley, 1851 (Gastropoda: Prosobranchia) (2nd edition). He is also a coauthor (along with Eugene Coan and Alan Kabat) of 2400 years of Malacology.

--Thomas E. Eichhorst
Albuquerque, NM, USA